The Colorful History of Paintball

Paintball, a sport that has recently taken the world by storm, can trace its beginnings to Charles Nelson of the Nelson Paint Company in the 1960s. He created a paintball marker which was initially used as an accurate and convenient way for park rangers and cattle farmers to mark trees and livestock from afar.

His spray paint devices were patented specifically for agricultural purposes and the marker balls were made of gelatin with oil-based paints in them. Little did he know that these inventions would eventually become so popular around the globe!

Before the First Game

Nelspot 707

Paintball as we know it started to take shape in 1970, when the first-ever paintball marker was designed. It all began with a request from a northeast forestry group who wanted an air powered tool that could shoot self-contained paintballs far enough and accurately enough for marking hard-to reach trees for excavation purposes.

After careful consideration, Nelson, in partnership with RP Scherer, decided to embark on the ambitious project of manufacturing an oil-based .68 caliber paint-ball. The ultimate hurdle now lay before them: How could these new projectiles be launched?

Nelson approached one of the two leading airgun companies, Crossman, which joined the forces with him and created the Nelspot “707.” Unfortunately, their sales were sluggish so Crossman eventually backed out of this venture. Next, Nelson approached Daisy, the second largest airgun company, which stepped up and continued what had been started by Crossman and created an epoch-defining marker now known as the iconic Nelspot “007”. This model inspired many more down the line such as Bushmaster, Phantom or Razorback, just to name a few.

Ever since the 1980s, paintball fanatics have been tinkering and customizing their weapons to gain an advantage on the field. Players created extended magazines for Nelspot markers; they added ball drops, with one enthusiast even constructing his own pump handle from PVC in 1983. Ken Muffler of Delaware Delta Dogs spent five days engineering a unique pump-handle for his Nelspot marker before taking it out onto the battlefield – where he played four games utilising this new performance-enhancing design !

During the 1984 regional Survival Game tournament playoffs, a team contested that an improved Nelspot gave them an unfair benefit. Bill Churchwell, member of the NSG Championship LRRPS and owner of Tech-na Ball (one of the pacesetters in paintgun upgrading during mid to late 1980s) exclaimed “I still have scars from my original Nelspot’s cocking bolt! I couldn’t tolerate it any longer so I constructed a cardboard pump handle for myself. Soon enough most everyone on my team had access to one too.”

Meeting of the Minds: Who Would Come Out Alive?

Charles Gaines and his best friend Hayes Noel

On a chill summer afternoon in Jupiter Island, Florida, Charles Gaines and his best friend Hayes Noel were enjoying Gin and Tonics when an intriguing question arose. After returning from a hunting trip, Noel pondered whether or not someone used to city life would have better odds at survival than an experienced outdoorsman. Was there something instinctive about surviving such situations or was it more reliant on one’s environment? Little did they know that this conversation held the potential to be the most momentous event for paintball history!

Noel had achieved great success as a stock broker in the cutthroat New York market, giving him confidence that he could take on any challenge. One night, Noel was attacked by three men- but instead of cowering in fear, he courageously screamed and hurled trash cans at them – sending them fleeing away! He believed that his instincts to act crazier than them may have saved his life.

Gaines, a nature enthusiast from New Hampshire, assumed he would be better-equipped to stay alive in any survival scenario. He had been hunting and fishing for years and knew the outdoors like the back of his hand – probably more so than an urbanite! After hours debating this idea with a friend, Bob Gurnsey was invited into the discussion too and found himself agreeing that Gaines’ outdoor experience did indeed give him an edge.

Not long after, the trio began conversing about a narrative from The Most Dangerous Game, published in the 1930s. In this tale, an erratic individual residing on an isle welcomed visitors to play his deadly game of survival – without informing them that they would be hunted down as prey! That evening Gurnsey and Noel pondered organizing an event where participants will have to face numerous challenges head-on.

In their conversations, they explored a wide range of wild scenarios that included cliff jumping, rock climbing and flag flying. They even considered having a BB gun fight! Furthermore, the group discussed using wax-tipped .22 caliber bullets in order to assess which person would excel at these crazy situations.

Months later, George Butler, a mutual friend of Gaines, Gurnsey and Noel who was aware of their conversations about starting a new sport, stumbled upon the Nelspot markers in a farm catalog. This discovery sparked his curiosity and he reached out to Gaines right away. After purchasing some markers with enthusiasm, invitations were sent to nine other men so that together with the original three they could form twelve players for this upcoming dreamy venture!Add block

Paintball is Born

The “Real” First Game Ever Played – May, 1981

“Before we ever played that first game, Hayes and I each wrapped towels around our waists and shot each other to see how badly it would hurt. Hayes shot first and missed. Then I shot him in the butt. Once we realized it was going to be fairly safe, we talked about playing our first one-on-one game. We wrote some simple rules, went into the woods and played a 45-minute game. It ended when I snuck up behind Hayes and said, ‘I guess I won the argument!’ Neither of us fired a single shot.” – Charles Gaines speaking at the 2004 IAO in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.’

Charles Gaines revealed that he and his friends had tested out some of their rules and play details before officially launching their first organized event six weeks later. After this trial run, Charles declared confidently: “Once we did that I knew we had to do this”. Paintball has come a long way since then – but it all started with the brave pioneers who made the very first move for what would become an iconic pastime.

The First Multi-Player Game of Paintball – June 27, 1981

It’s impossible to say for certain how long paintball had been around before the first recorded game was played in 1981. After all, the paintgun was invented 11 years prior in 1970 and it is not far-fetched to assume that workers who were using Nelspots may have “accidentally” shot each other with those oil-based balls while they were out doing forestry work. However, just like basketball which had its first documented game 90 years earlier in 1891, what matters most is that momentous occasion where we can look back and be sure of when this activity became officially acknowledged.

Paintball, a beloved pastime of many today, began with an epic tale of twelve men equipped with Nelspot 007s, protective goggles and maps who embarked on a “every man for himself” mission to gather as many flags before time ran out. A thrilling story that lives on through generations – paintball’s roots are more powerful than they seem!

The Invitations

The Original 12 Paintball Players

Gurnsey, Gaines, and Noel formed a restricted list of potential participants for the inaugural paintball tournament. They chose to invite six woodsmen and six city men since they believed this was the most viable approach to pre-empt any “argument.” This final selection included stock brokers, writers, master hunters, surgeons as well as others. In total twelve players were present with each paying $175 for expenses.

Set upon a massive 100-plus acre plot of land, the aim of this game was to collect as many flags as possible. In fact, eliminating opponents would only be a minor factor in deciding the victor – so much so that not one shot had to be fired by the eventual winner!

Splitting the field into four sections with three flags per sector, twelve players strategized and dashed around the grounds attempting to outlast their opponents or capture all twelve flags. In a thrilling finale, Ritchie White emerged as winner of this historic paintball match-up after managing to grab every single flag!

Some Game Facts

  • Ken Barret was the first to surrender to Jerome Gary, thus marking his official elimination in history’s inaugural multiplayer paintball game.
  • In what Gurnsey deemed a “sly and shrewd” way, Dr. Bob Carlson ruthlessly eliminated five of the twelve players from the game.
  • After being “bounced,” Charles Gaines eliminated Lionel Atwell.
  • Hayes Noel was eliminated by Bob Carlson.
  • In an impressive display of strategy and skill, Ritchie White managed to secure all flags without even needing to draw his weapon – ultimately winning the game.

The First Female to Play

Over the nearly 30 years paintball has been in existence there have been many female paintball players. If you were asked to name a few female paintball players you’d probably come up with names like Keely Watson, Bea Youngs, and maybe Karen Barber if you’re old school.

But if you’re REALLY old school you might know that the first female to play paintball was none other than a former Alabama Governor George Wallace’s wife, Cornelia Wallace.Add block

The First Paintball Field

Bob Gurnsey

In 1982, Bob Gurnsey began the world’s first commercial paintball field in New Hampshire as National Survival Game gained immense popularity. This led to National Survival Game Inc franchising their business and creating fields all over America. To continue this success, a major tournament was held in 1983: The National Survival Game National Championship with a grand prize of $3,000 – which was won by a Canadian team known as The Unknown Rebels!

As the years passed, paintball experienced explosive growth globally. In 1984 it was officially named ‘paintball’ and new products like the first ever mass-produced paintgun and water-soluble polymers were released to keep up with demand. 1985 marked a significant milestone in England as they saw their very first outdoor field open its doors – this same year many other countries around the world followed suit, providing smaller fields for those who wanted more intense playstyles.

Back in the late 1980s, the International Paintball Players Association was created as a non-profit organization to secure paintball’s development and safety. This move set limits on marker speed at 300 feet per second. By 1989, an estimated of 75,000 people were playing paintball each weekend across the United States!

The 1990s saw a surge in popularity of the sport, as paintball cemented itself as a fan-favourite worldwide. The advancement in technology brought forth state-of-the art equipment such as high-quality Tippmann and Spyder guns, along with biodegradable and non toxic paintballs made out of water soluble material. Paintball stores began to emerge all around alongside specialised fields and manufacturers dedicated solely to this rapidly growing game. ESPN’s World Championship Games even had its TV debut that same year in 1995!

Paintball Today

Playing Paintball

With a variety of guns, masks, markers and more – as well as outdoor and indoor arenas ranging from forests to WWII scenarios – this multimillion dollar industry offers endless possibilities for everyone.

Whether you choose the classic “capture the flag,” go all-out with an elimination game or use it for team building activities like birthdays or bachelor parties; paintball is perfect when there are 6 players just as much as 100!

Paintball History Outline

1940: The Nelson Paint Company was founded by Charles Nelson.

The 70’s


Paint-fill balls were first manufactured.


The Nelspot Paintgun was invented.


Nelspot Patent granted.


Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel debate who would be better at surviving a stalking game. This conversation eventually led to the first paintball game of which both participated.

The 80’s


Before the first “real” paintball game was ever played, Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel played a one-on-one game that lasted about 45 minutes.

The first multi-player game of paintball was played in Henniker, New Hampshire.

Cornelia Wallace became the first female to play paintball.

Bob Gurnsey, with the help of Hayes Noel and Charles Gaines, created the first paintball products distribution company – the National Survival Game (NSG).

A feature article on paintball appears in Sports Illustrated, creating huge buzz nationwide.


Carl McCown opens the first commercial paintball field.

Pursuit Marketing Inc, (PMI) is founded giving the NSG their first competition

Caleb Strong opens a paintball field in Rochester, NY

Hayes Noel appears on the Phil Donahue Show


Lionel Atwill, writes “The Official Survival Game Manual,” the first paintball publication.

Tournament paintball is born, with the first NSG Championships taking place in New London, New Hampshire.


The first game of paintball is played in the UK.

Water-based paintballs replaced oil-based

Paintball is first played in Australia


The Splatmaster, the first marker made specifically for paintball is unveiled.

Brass Eagle is founded by Aldo Perrone.

Wayne Dollack holds the first known scenario game.

Gramps and Grizzly introduce constant air C02.

Adventure is the first-ever magazine for paintball players.


US Military Academy starts first college paintball club

Fred Schultz plays his first game of paintball


First stick feed modification introduced.

Tippmann release Tippmann SMG-60

JT and Scott release goggles made specifically for paintball; U.S. patent 4,634,606 granted January 6, 1987 to George A. Skogg for the first washable paintball; APG covers their first paintball tournament – NY Paint Pistol Open; .38, .50, .60.62, and .68 caliber paintballs were all being used; USA Crossfire Equalizer paint gun is introduced


First stick feed modification introduced.


Phantom and Bushmaster pump-guns hit the market

After a long court battle, Ray Gong got paintball legalized in the state of New Jersey

Bud Orr’s Worr Game Products introduces the 45-round Ammo Box

Guy Cooper releases the first edition of his “Paintball Field Operator’s Guide”; Krash won the Music City Open


SC Village introduces “Speedball.”

Smart Parts and their line of drilled barrels hit the paintball scene; The original Viewloader is introduced; Bart Stud Squad wins Mayhem (UK); Florida Terminators win Jim Lively’s Music City OpenThe Razorback pump gun is released; Brass Eagle debuts the Barracuda and Jaguar semiautos; The Boonie Rats win the TCC Midland, Texas tournament

The 90’s


First Paintcheck five-man event is held, becoming the largest five-man event ever.

Tom Kaye introduces the 68 Automag

The PMI Piranhas Win the North American Paintball Championships

The Splatmaster Rapide “Comp” was introduced

Bullseye Paintball’s George Statler publically challenges PMI’s Jeff Perlmutter to a one-on-one $10,000 paintball game


Debra Dion Krischke holds the first International Amateur Open tournament (know then as the Cal Mag Amateur Open).

UK Predators become the first non North American paintball team to win a major event on US soil; Tom Kaye developed the first nitrogen system for paintball, which was never commercially released; The Fight: Idema and “Fast Eddie” duke it out at the Masters.


Paintball Consumer Reports International (PCRI) becomes the first consumer-oriented paintball publication.

Dave Bell and Viewloader intoduce the first electronic hopper/loader – the VL-2000.

The NPPL is formed; PMI introduced the Trracer; All Americans win the International Masters Ten-Man, Paintcheck five-man; Ironmen win the Windy City Open; The Lords of Discipline break up; RP Scherer opens first paintball-only plant


NPPL holds its first tournament (Dallas, Texas).


PCRI cuts a deal to bring ESPN to the NPPL DC Cup. The event is shown on ESPN.

Fred Schultz signs on with Disney to play paintball on Main Street. becomes the first paintball website.

Dye enters the paintball world with their line of barrels, apparel and accessories.

Aces and Eights and Dark Justice win the NAAPSA Nationals

Phantom Force (OR) wins five Great Western tournaments

Phantom Force (VA) wins the NPPL Amateur five-man title

World Cup moves to Florida


The Ironmen win the Mayhem Masters becoming the first non US team to win a major event abroad.

After Bad Company’s Pittsburgh win, Rage won the next tournament in Chicago.

The Sheridan Equalizer is released but is not a commercial success.

Air Power’s Vector is introduced.

VL-3000, 300 round motorized loader is released

Bad Company becomes the first “non big three” to win an NPPL event.

Ironmen become the first American team to win the Mayhem Masters (UK).

ESPN World Championships of paintball are filmed.


The World Cup moves from New York to Orlando, Florida.

Skirmish draws 2063 in the largest recorded paintball game ever.

Pro Team Products Releases the Micro Mag

WDP introduces Hyperball.

Adrenaline Games introduced Airball.


The Ironmen split – become the SC Ironmen and Bob Long’s Ironmen.

WDP shows off the Angel prototypes at the IAO.

Saberwolves become the first team to win both the five and ten man portions of the IAO.

Joe Fortin of Team Xtreme admits to throwin a pro paintball game for money.


First Skyball event is held in the Toronto Skydome.


Millennium Series hold its first event.

P8nt Magazine debuts.

KAPP (later Dynasty) wins five Mustangs in the first Spyder Cup

The 2000’s


Chammenge Part Xtremes opens.

National Paintball Supplies purchases Paintball 2Xtremes Magazine.

“Push” movie premiers.


First Madness indoor event is held.


Brass Eagle purchases JT USA from John Gregory.

X-Ball is announced.

Nations Cup is held alongside the IAO.

Bea Youngs and paintball shown on Junkyard Wars TV show.

Jeremy Salm sniper incident takes place at the World Cup.

The NPPL and PSP split.

Tippmann introduces the Flatline barrel.


PPL hold its first stand-alone event – Huntington Beach, CA.

NXL holds it first event.

Ronn Stern holds first summer paintball camp and the trend starts.

PMI buys RP Scherer’s paintball division.